In preparation for today’s seminar at Surviving Actors, I trawled through over 700 responses to the Honest Actors’ survey to find the things actors most commonly say when asked, ‘If you could go back to the start of your career and offer yourself advice, what would it be?’ . For those of you who couldn’t make it along, I’m going to share the top twenty responses…

As a collection, they represent the hindsight of many, no doubt based on successes, failures and more than a few regrets. Some will be controversial (numbers 1 and 2 are a prime example) and many seem contradictory (ditto), but thankfully democracy has spared you the most ludicrous…

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Other favourites include: “Don’t do that ad for the rental company, it will be awful and you’ll have to let your mum watch it anyway”; “Burn the negatives of those Headshots from 1986”; and “Accept the role you’re offered in Only Fools and Horses“.

Here it is – the career advice actors wish they’d been given sooner:

 

1. Go to RADA.

“Go to a better drama school”; “Go to a better known Drama school”; “Get to a good drama school as early as possible”, “And also, go to a bigger drama school, like… RADA”; “Go to RADA. The training will be the same, but you’ll get a better agent”.

No other drama school is mentioned anywhere nearly as much. But wait! There are two sides to every story…

 

2. Don’t go to RADA.

“Go to Oxbridge. Its the best shortcut’; “Just because you spent 3 years at RADA doesn’t anybody knows or cares about you”; “Don’t go to RADA’.

I guess this just illustrates that it’s a very personal question, and while I think much of what follows is great advice, you should take all of it with a pinch of salt. Baz Luhrmann was right: “Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts… and recycling it for more than it’s worth”.

 

3. Take risks.

“Take more risks because as you get older, it’s harder to do”; “Take more risks and don’t care what people think”; “Stop giving such a shit. It’s acting- no one is going to die if you get it wrong. Make bold choices’; “Above all, take risks and enjoy the ride”; “Be fearless. Take risks. Set yourself no limits”; “Take more risks because as you get older, it’s harder to do”.

Nobody said ‘take less risks’. Not one.

 

 4. Work harder.

“You can never know too much, and you can never prep or research too hard”; “Pursue every opportunity when you’re first out of drama school. ‘Recent graduate’ only washes for so long”; “Work hard. Send emails. Keep busy. Don’t be a dick”; “Work hard, be humble, stay in your lane”; Work on accents”; “Work hard. Prepare as much as you can for castings. Don’t be late.”

Okay, some people said “Chill out” too. Actually, a lot of people. Just not enough to make it onto the list.

 

 5. (Don’t) say ‘yes’ to everything.

Another contradiction for you here. It’s either: “Be more picky over the work you choose; it’s the only control you have”, or “Say yes to everything; you never know where it’ll lead, who you’ll meet or what you’ll learn”.

Make you own mind up. Don’t make your own mind up.

See what I did?

 

 6. Work. Make. Create.

“If you can, write your own work”; “Make your own work”; “Make it happen yourself – make your own work”; “Make more of your own work’; “Start writing sooner”; “Make sure you have something else to pursue creatively when not working”; “Don’t wait til 42 to write your novel”; “Make your own work”.

There is no contradiction here. None. Out of 725 responses to date, nobody said “Don’t write”.

 

7. Be realistic in your expectations.

“In 20 years, you’ll still be just a jobbing actor. not an international star. Do you still want to do it?”; “Only be an actor if you KNOW you’ll be really unhappy doing anything else”; “You need to really think this through!”; “There’s no answer to the stressful juggle between acting and other work until you ‘make it’. You may never ‘make it'”; “You will miss some of your loved ones’ special occasions”; “You will never get to do ski holidays or sun holidays”; “The fact you sometimes get to do something you love is already a success”.

This is one of my favourites. Along with “know why you’re an actor”, which didn’t make the list, but it’s my list so I can do what I like.

 

 8. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

“It’s gunna take longer than you expected…”; “It is a marathon, not a sprint. Relax, work hard, be kind and you’ll get there”; “It’s marathon, not a sprint. Everyone is at different stages along their run”; “It’s not a race, there’s no end goal, it never stops being unpredictable, everyone is on a different journey/path”; “Be patient – it’s a marathon”; “It really is a marathon, not a sprint. They’re not lying to you about that one, it’s true and that’s FINE”; “Nothing happens over night”.

Yup.

 

 9. ‘Comparison is the thief of joy’.

“Stop comparing yourself to movie stars. Stop”; “Don’t compare yourself to other actors, you’ll go nuts”; “Stop comparing yourself to others. You are your only competition”; “Don’t focus on anyone else’s career but your own”; “Stop worrying about what others our doing. Focus on your own path”; “Run your own race and stop being so scared”; “Don’t concern yourself with what others are doing or how they’re doing”; “Don’t worry about what other people are doing”.

Let’s agree, here and now, that we’ll never again ask another actor “So, are you in anything at the minute?” or – more crucially – answer the question “How are you?” as if we’d heard the former. Deal? Deal.

And if you fancy reading an article on this very subject, looky looky, here’s one I made earlier

 

10. Drink less.

“Don’t drink so much”; “Stop drinking so much. Believe in yourself. Read more”; “Stop partying and earn the right to party”; “Work harder, network more, party less”.

Honestly? What are you my GP?! You should meet this guy…

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That’s your lot for now. The second part of the piece can be found here. But beware, things get a little more serious…

Like it? Please share it with your friends and followers on social media. Have something to say? Please join the conversation by leaving a comment below. Have an idea for an article of your own? Find out more about writing for The Honest Actors’ Blog here.

Jonathan Harden
Actor. VO. Director.

Former barman, waiter, cook, labourer, ‘tugger’, security guard, dish washer, removals man, bouncer, office manager, Wendy’s ‘Crew Member’, Costa ‘barista’, snooker table maintenance guy, shop assistant, usher, boom op, golf buggy driver, and one-time pretend bank robber.

Started this thing thinking nobody would listen.